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King Crimson - Absent Lovers - Live in Montreal, 1984  CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.45 | 305 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Is it possible there's a King Crimson fan who hasn't yet heard this 2-disc live set from the mid-'80s line-up? Is so, it's time to crawl out from beneath that rock you've been hiding under all these years. This is a stunning show from beginning to end, but more than that it's an essential document from one of the few genuinely progressive (as opposed to Prog) rock bands in a decade otherwise marked by limited ambitions, cookie cutter radio hits, and big hair.

It's hard to believe this was the group's final gig (for another decade, at any rate), but Robert Fripp has always had a gift for quitting while he's ahead, before complacency kills the creative impulse. Not for the first time, King Crimson went out at the top of their game, in this case with a loud and enthusiastic swan song at The Spectrum in Montreal, on July 11, 1984. Wish you could have been there? Here's your chance, better late than never.

Picking out the highlights is almost too easy. There's the ominous "Entry of the Crims", opening the show with one of the more effective and sinister Frippertronic loops ever created. Tony Levin then adds a complimentary monster bass riff, followed by Adrian Belew with some trademark whammy bar abuse. (It's interesting that Fripp waits for Belew's entrance before cutting loose with an absolutely torrid solo: a case of six-string one-upmanship, perhaps?) Bill Bruford arrives last, and after a few warm-up drum rolls the free-for-all jam suddenly coalesces into the hyper precise groove of "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part III", surely one of the most dramatic transitions in the entire King Crimson discography.

A few songs later the quartet attacks the Crim classic "Red", with an energy and tempo that makes the original album version sound like a narcoleptic sleepwalk. The same can be said for "Industry" and "Dig Me" ("the weird stuff", according to Belew), both of which prove beyond a doubt that improvisation is something best performed in a live arena, in front of a receptive audience.

And the arrangement of "Indiscipline" is easily the best of the many renditions I've been privileged to hear, with good reason. Unlike in the studio original, the cataclysmic instrumental "chorus" is held back until after Belew's first narrative "verse", building considerably more tension before the sudden release. To borrow a phrase: "I do think it's good."

And that's only an incomplete sampling of Disc One. There's plenty more, but you get the idea.

Mindful of the Prog Archives review guidelines, I considered limiting my rating to a respectable four stars. After all, the second disc shows a bias toward some of the band's more conventional songs ("Heartbeat", "Elephant Talk", etc). And their reading of the usually reliable "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part II" is surprisingly stiff and mechanical, at least compared to the apocalyptic encores of the mid-'70s outfit.

But how many albums, released fifteen years too late, completely redefine our perception of a band? Listeners familiar with only the trio of studio albums by the '80s King Crimson (and who, like myself, never experienced them in concert) are in for a belated but gratifying shock. Any recording that manages to place a group in such an entirely new historical perspective has earned that coveted fifth star, as far as I'm concerned.

This is the perfect companion volume to "The Great Deceiver" and "Epitaph" (similar live re-appraisals of the '70s Crimson and the original late '60s line-up, respectively). But why it was never officially released earlier is a mystery known only to Robert Fripp and his inner circle at DGM.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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